A Capital Idea?

Trial starts tomorrow so, as you can imagine, I’ve had no time to think about much of anything else this weekend.  Let me quickly throw out a topic I’m interesting in hearing about from you.  Really, two topics, I guess.

First, should America use capital punishment?  My own view is that humans are capable of doing things for which they deserve to die and any society that does not punish such behavior appropriately is not a society confident enough in its own values.

Second, if we are to have capital punishment in this country, how can we make it work effectively?  Right now, the system is clearly broken.  It takes 20-30 years and millions of dollars to execute even someone who clearly deserves it.  What is the point of a system that hands out the death penalty, but is so insecure about carrying it out that most death penalty criminals will die of old age before they die at the hands of the state?

I understand perfectly well that death penalty opponents have done everything in their power to make actually executing someone as expensive as possible, so they can then argue it’s not worth the expense (a tactic carried out with stunning effectiveness by nuclear power opponents!).  But is there a way to create a system with appropriate safeguards that still achieves justice relatively quickly and inexpensively?  My own suggestion is that a death penalty defendant be given, as a matter of right, a trial, a first appeal to the court of appeal, a second appeal to the state supreme court (states like Wyoming which don’t have Courts of Appeal could have a special appellate panel of senior lower court judges to serve in place of the Court of Appeal), one request for clemency to the governor, and that’s it.  The trial should be brought within a year of arrest.  The first appeal should be decided within one year of trial.  The second appeal should be decided within six months of the decision in the first appeal.  The clemency decision should be made within one month after the decision in the second appeal.  The execution should take place within one week after clemency is denied. 

Under this plan, the defendant has four chances to escape the penalty — one before a jury, two before panels of judges, and one before an elected politician.  That’s enough.  Essentially, instead of dragging our feet forever in death penalty cases we should take them seriously, giving ample opportunity to avoid death to those who do not deserve it, but acting surely and (relatively) swiftly, against those who do.   Instead of taking twenty or thirty years, we take two or three. 

What do you think?  Should we have a death penalty at all and, if so, how would you implement it?

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  • SGT Dave

    DQ and all,
    Quick and dirty question – If one supports life in prison without the possibility for parole, how is this different from the death penalty? In neither case does an individual ever leave the custody of the state. Is it, indeed, more cruel to confine someone through the end of their days than to end their days?
    I agree with shortening the appeal process; I am, however, in favor of making sure that additional testing (especially DNA) and ALL the evidence (not just the case the prosecutor presented) be made available to the appeals justice. I would prefer that the appeal take place in a different jurisdiction area, to prevent personal relationships from interfering with the justice system. Add in one appeal to the governor, one to the president, and one to the senior court with jurisdiction (all within a reasonable “swift and fair” consideration) and then end it or not.
    When considering if our methods are humane, consider the testimony of Castillo and his fellows, now freed after over twenty years as political prisoners in Cuba. Captain’s Quarters has a nice summary.
    Well, time to do the morning reports,

    SGT Dave – “Life is precious, far too precious to leave unprotected and at the mercy of tyrants, even though life is the cost of this duty.”

  • Mike Devx

    I have no problem with having a death penalty, though it does make me uncomfortable.

    We have a standard that says a verdict must be beyond a reasonable doubt to find a defendant guilty.

    For a sentence of death – during the penalty phase – I would want the verdict to be beyond almost ANY doubt, and I would want it for only the most egregious of crimes: Murder by planning (with intent). There may be other crimes as well that I haven’t considered. Some of us am sure would seek the death penalty for child molestation, rape, torture, and other truly horrific crimes, but I’m not convinced. I’d prefer to keep its use limited.

  • Don Quixote

    SGT Dave, two quick answers to your question before I head for trial. First, prison conditions being what they are, there is a world of difference between death and life in our prisons. If prisons were truly punishing places I might agree that there is not that much difference. Second, I go back to where I started. I belive there are some crimes that deserve death. For such crimes, death (or, perhaps, a truly punishing life) is the only just alternative and a just society will settle for nothing less.

  • Danny Lemieux

    This is an area where my religious convictions truly come into play.

    On one hand, I believe that everyone should have an opportunity for redemption. On the other hand, I also acknowledge that some people are so evil that there will be no redemption. I also feel revulsion at the idea that innocent people can be executed by the State and nothing will convince me that this hasn’t happened in our justice system at some time.

    I also recognize that no matter what “without parole” qualifications you attach to a perp’s sentence, young attorneys belonging to the American Criminal Liberties Union or like-associations will find a way to undermine them in order to make a name for themselves or to make a political statement (e.g. Mumia). Unfortunately, our legal history is also replete with cases of perpetrators allowed to go free to kill again (e.g., Willie Horton).

    Given that there are some persons that never, never, never should be allowed the opportunity to prey on their fellow men ever again, I’ come out in support of capital punishment with all the tight and redundant controls mentioned by SGT. Dave above. For me, anyway, it’s not a choice between “good” and “evil” so much as a choice of choosing the lesser of two evils.

  • USMaleSF

    My own view is that humans are capable of doing things for which they deserve to die and any society that does not punish such behavior appropriately is not a society confident enough in its own values.

    Well put, DQ and matching my own viewpoint exactly.

    One of the things that humans do is to kill others, in every format from self-defense to genocide. If the worst thing a society will do is lock them away in a human facility for the rest of their lives when they intentionally take human life without just cause, then the message for everyone is precise that human life is not so important.

    Behind my rejection of pacifism and appeasement and my support of capital punishment, reasonable corporal punishment, hunting, meat-eating, etc is my belief that those who urge us to supposedly higher moral values are in fact enacting a deep loathing of themselves and their society. They lack the natural and spontaneous self-assertion that every human group which hopes to survive must exhibit. Because if you don’t, you can be that the neighbor group down the road or over the boarder will smell it as weakness and your future will be in grave doubt.

    Progressives want us to become harmless, which means that the very thought of self-assertive self-defense –which requires violence– will one day be unavailable and we will sit like dodos as the next human group wipes us out.

    And mixed in here, I smell the triumph of a certain kind of feminism, which makes the virtues of manhood laughable, marginal, pathological and/or criminal.

  • rockdalian

    Living in a state ( Illinois ) that has seen more death row inmates released from prison than were actually executed, I am still in favor of the death sentence.
    I would tighten the standards for eligibility though. I think there must be no doubt of guilt, such as in a case like John Wayne Gacy, the man that buried his victims under his house. No question of guilt. I agree with DQ, a quick appeals process and thats it.
    If, however, there is no concrete evidence to prove guilt, such as circumstantial evidence, then I am comfortable with a life sentence.
    And by life sentence I mean no soft time. The end of Richard Speck’s life was truly revolting. He was convicted of murdering eight nurses in 1966. Bill Curtis, in a documentary for the A&E channel, showed Speck with almost feminine breasts and smoking what appeared to be some type of drug with his boyfriend.
    Life for murder ought to be harder time than that.

  • Mike Devx

    Amen, rockdalian, Amen.

    Cases such as John Wayne Gacy and Richard Speck are easy for me. I would have no trouble carrying out the death sentence and I truly believe I would sleep well at night.

    I would vote to convict Drew Peterson for the murder of his 4th wife (Lacey?). But the case remains circumstancial enough that I wouldn’t vote for death. Even though he appears to be a serial wife murderer and that would make him psychopathic. IF he is in fact guilty, as I believe he is.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    What a great question, DQ. I support the death penalty, but only in limited circumstances. When I was in law school, a professor began his Crim Law class by describing two murders: one, a “clean” shooting in a brawl between two low lives, and the other an indescribably heinous torture murder of a small child. He then said that the first crime resulted in the death penalty, the second in life imprisonment. Everybody in the class recoiled. Both the law and human nature recognize that not all deaths are equal. Heck, even the Hebrew Bible, which carefully distinguishes in the Ten Commandments between killing and murder (with the latter being prohibited, but not the former), acknowledges that humans are capable of killing each other, but that the moral import of killings may be different.

    The reason I open with this is because I suspect that the death penalty would be more readily supported if there was a more even-handed application of the “morally loathsome” factor in applying the death penalty. Some people do truly deserve to die because they seem to have no souls. Richard Alan Davis, who killed Polly Klass was a soulless killer, as was Tookie Williams, who gleefully described executing his victims. Viscerally, I believe that these people not only have lost their right to claim a place on this earth, I also believe that the knowledge that you can be killed for crimes such as these does serve as a deterrent to other socio and psychopaths who are comfortable with such levels of brutality.

    I also agree with DQ that there should be a standardized approach to the appeals process, but I would go further and add a standarized approach to the crimes that deserve death. Normally, I support community norms, so that a killer in Georgia shouldn’t be surprised if he’s treated more harshly than a killer in Massachusetts. However, given the political hay anti-death penalty opponents have made out of the “stupid killers” who got the death penalty, it would help reinstate the death penalty’s credibility if, nation-wide, only the most horrible died.

  • Ymarsakar

    The death penalty should not be something the state asks for, it should be something the jury asks for.

    All the prosecution has to do is to prove his case, and if he proves his case well enough, then the jury would be automatically inclined to the death penalty given that in many cases, uanimous consent must be given by all jurors for DP.

    Viscerally, I believe that these people not only have lost their right to claim a place on this earth, I also believe that the knowledge that you can be killed for crimes such as these does serve as a deterrent to other socio and psychopaths who are comfortable with such levels of brutality.

    They serve more as a counter-insurgency support mechanism so that criminals don’t support or wish to become sociopathic killers. Sociopathic killers would be easier to catch and kill if the criminal underground would report them to us. But if we punish regular criminals and even murderers the same as we do the sociopaths, by what reason should those that the sociopaths associate with, even if it is a rare association, help us out?

    There is no deterence to an enemy of humanity. Once someone puts himself in opposition to humanity, there is no punishment so harsh that it will deter them. They will simply wait for a more opportune time. Which is always a losing proposition for us so long as they live and we can die.

    For one thing, the overall concern of a serial killer is simply to not be caught. So long as you can’t catch them, they don’t really care what punishment you create.

    Behind my rejection of pacifism and appeasement and my support of capital punishment, reasonable corporal punishment, hunting, meat-eating, etc is my belief that those who urge us to supposedly higher moral values are in fact enacting a deep loathing of themselves and their society.

    You would find great satisfaction in A E van vogt’s novel The Battle of Forever. In it, humanity has modified themselves to the point of total decadence. With life spans reaching 1500 years, they have enclosed themselves in enclaves, ignoring the rest of the world that they bequeathed to uplifted animal and insect intelligences. I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that these highly evolved humans have a 2 feet body that takes in nutrition from the sun and water. They need anti-gravitiy support chairs simply to prevent their enlarged head from falling down and dragging their useless bodies with them.

    They are quite pacifistic. 4 billion human beings, in the end, evolved to such a high level of morality and philosophy, that now there are only about a thousand left on the planet Earth after 3000 years. That is, of course, a convenient goal for those with higher moral values, such as environmentalists.

  • benning

    An interesting idea. Would it work? Who knows.

    My own thoughts have been this: If Life meant exactly that, then use it. No parole for good behavior, no commutation because the prisoner has gotten old. Only released should evidence arise showing innocence of the charges for which he/she was convicted. Not even a Presidential Pardon allowed in so-called Capital Crimes. Lifers should be apart from the general population in prison, perhaps in a kind of solitary confinement – again, for so-called Capital Crimes.

    No extraordinary medical treatments should be allowed. If the prisoner is suffering from a disease, then give them something to ease the pain. Nothing more than that. Make a Lifer go in a prisoner and exit a dead body. That might make a difference to those of us who support Capital Punishment. Anything less is just more Leftist idiocy and sleight-of-hand.

    Oh, and let’s get Mumia a seat in Old Sparky now!

  • Ymarsakar

    The basic human problem in the legal system is no prosecutor pays damages for innocent people they have sent to jail. No defendant pays damages for the guilty they successfully defend and release into the civilian population. No judge pays with his life or his wallet the damage his decisions result in if innocents go to jail for life and the guilty are released.

    The nation of America is already paying extraordinary amounts in blood and treasure for legal and equal justice. The attempt to then make prison more to the taste of Leftists and Democrats, to make punishment into recreation for criminals, is called utopia and creating the conditions for social revolution.

    All the price that can be paid has been paid. Now all the extra luxuries are additional stresses the innocent pay for the benefit of those in power that can’t be held to account.

    If the Left is able to make certain that criminals like Tookie are pardoned and released, then this will setup a backlash from the majority population that will call for and demand changes to the legal system. Which will mean extreme measures will be taken that will divide up society and pit us against each other. Thus setting the climate for social revolution and violence.

    Obama already wants to weaken and eliminate the US military. Soon it will be the police. And then what will people do but create mobs, lynch prosecutors that don’t do what the mob wants, and so forth?

    The road of the Left is the road to misery.

  • boqueronman

    This is the money quote from an NYT article in November 2007:

    “According to roughly a dozen recent studies, executions save lives. For each inmate put to death, the studies say, 3 to 18 murders are prevented.”

    From a utilitarian perspective the issue could not be any clearer. Capital punishment saves lives.

    Therefore, to argue against capital punishment one must identify a convincing moral/ethical counter-argument, probably one of the following:

    1. That the demonstration effect of the current capital punishment system is positive but is only achieved by the execution of a significant number of convicted but innocent prisoners. Possible, but there are no indications anywhere that innocent prisoners have been unjustly executed; or

    2. That a real pro-life position – not political posturing of some parts and not others – rejects the taking of human life in all its forms, from abortion, through capital punishment, to war (although this last one is certainly arguable).

    Make your choice.